Cheese is forking expensive. There it is: the hard truth. The painful realization that I’ve been struck with as I reached “adulthood.”
After ditching the plastic-wrapped singles of childhood and entering the world of my mother’s cranberry-crusted goat cheese log of happiness, I began to realize that this particular passion was no cheap feat.
As I make my way through my twenties—young, fun, and penniless—I’m constantly trapped in a battle between my love of the curd, and my need to keep a roof over my head. (Okay, maybe it hasn’t come to that choice. Yet.)
For those like me, desperate for some cheddar on the plate without having to drain it from the bank account, there is a way. I’ll break down for you my methods for making a totally flawless cheese board…on the cheap!
But first things first: remember that cheaper doesn’t mean your board will be any less mouthwatering. You don’t need to replace those triple cream Bries with a spray can boasting the letters “E.Z.” With these tips, you can still make one bomb cheese board.
When you head to the grocery store, you might be buying far larger wedges than your board even needs. Instead of tossing a couple of blocks into your cart, consult Google Maps and head to your closest specialty cheese shop.
Stay with me—I know you heard “specialty cheese shop” and began moving your cursor over the close button. If you’re thinking that I don’t know what the word “cheaper” even means, hear me out. Most people assume that the word “specialty” is synonymous with “expensive,” but that isn’t always the case.
For instance, instead of buying a big block of cheese, throwing half on a board, and losing the other half to the depths of your fridge (that you remember only when a smell begins to seep out six weeks later), you can instead head to a place where you buy only what you need.
Tell them exactly what you want! “A little bit less, a little bit less, yes, there, I’ll take that smaller piece.” If you don’t know what you want, tell them that you’re making a cheese plate for one (or tell them it’s for seven but eat it all yourself, I’m not here to judge) and let them give you the exact right amount. You’ll save money, and save yourself the trouble of scrubbing out your fridge with baking soda two months from now. They’ll also be able to provide you with options in whatever price range suits your fancy.
Go for odds and ends.
Don’t have a specialty cheese shop nearby? Have no fear; your journey to cheese on the cheap does not end here. The Whole Foods cheese bin of odds and ends is calling your name. If you haven’t checked out this basket yet, go. GO NOW. Okay, you can finish reading, but then, seriously, go.
When cheeses have been cut at grocers like Whole Foods and the ends are deemed too small or misshapen to head back into the display case, they’re wrapped up and put in this magical, magical basket. Usually they cost only a few dollars, making this the perfect place to stock up on cheap cheese board options—and make good use of those single dollar bills that you unexpectedly found when you pulled out your winter coat.
Aim for variety.
Remember that sometimes, the key to a quality cheese board isn’t in the cost of the cheese, but in the variety. All you need to remember is to mix it up. I’d recommend a blue cheese, a soft cheese, a semi-hard (I prefer many of the Alpine style), and a firm cheese. If you stray from that formula, try to mix up milk types, flavors, and textures.
When you’re looking to pinch pennies, pick one of these categories as your “splurge” item. If you have an expensive, but favorite, blue cheese, don’t forgo it for the sake of your wallet. Carpe that delicious diem, but then balance out your choice with the other cheeses on your board. For the other three, stick to the lower end of the price spectrum, so you don’t need to worry about missing out on your favorite.
For specific recommendations, consider these handy dandy categories. If you already know that you love the top tier, try the other levels for similar flavors/textures at a lower cost. Who knows? You might just find a new, and more affordable, obsession—I mean, favorite.
Blue Cheese (The Token Blues):
Your Splurge: Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue
Your Middle Ground: Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.’s Bay Blue
Your Cheaper Option: Stilton PDO
Soft Cheese (The Ooey Gooey Guys):
Your Splurge: Brillat Savarin
Your Middle Ground: Fromagerie Lincet’s Délice de Bourgogne
Your Cheaper Option: Fromagerie Guilloteau Saint Angel
Semi-Soft or Alpine Style (The Neutrals):
Your Splurge: Sennerei Huban Alp Blossom
Your Middle Ground: Istara P’Tit Basque
Your Cheaper Option: 6 Month Aged Manchego PDO
Firm/Aged Cheeses (The Classics):
Your Splurge: Beemster X.O. Extra Aged Gouda
Your Middle Ground: Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar
Your Cheaper Option: Pecorino Romano
Don’t give up.
Just remember, where there is a cheesy will, there is a cheesy way. To those young curd nerds like myself, remember, we are a generation that makes it work: We are a generation that has accepted going to the bars and coming home by 9pm. We are the generation that realized that a quality six-second Vine can be all you need to be famous (whether that’s necessarily a good thing is still TBD). We can be a generation that will eat our cheese—and afford it too!
Photo Credit: Kate Young. Cheeses sourced from Cultured Slice Cheese Shop in Hermosa Beach.